Yair Rodriguez has worked his whole career to eventually compete for a UFC title, but he admits to having conflicted feelings about the interim belt up for grabs at UFC 284.
With reigning UFC featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski moving up to 155 pounds to challenge Islam Makhachev for his lightweight title, Rodriguez is matched up against Josh Emmett in the co-main event at UFC 284. While some fighters have celebrated an interim title win, others like Justin Gaethje have gone as far as discarding the belt because it’s not consider an undisputed championship.
For his part, Rodriguez can’t discount the accomplishment that comes along with winning any UFC title, but only time will tell if it will be considered the real belt or not.
“I mean, the journey’s been long,” Rodriguez said at UFC 284 media day. “It’s been like 10 years for me to get here to this point finally. I don’t want to be disrespectful and say it’s not the true belt or whatever. It’s just what it is.
“If we’re being honest, if I get to fight for the actual [undisputed] belt, then that will be the belt. If the actual champion [Alexander Volkanovski] decides not to come back to 145 pounds, then the champion of the division is whoever has the interim belt. That’s it. That’s the way it is.”
Volkanovski has stated numerous times that he wants to defend both titles if he’s successful in becoming a two-division UFC champion.
The odds are against him, however, with Makhachev riding a 10-fight win streak and sitting at around a 3-to-1 favorite heading into Saturday night — a streak which includes his dominant performance to capture the title with a submission over Charles Oliveira.
As great as Volkanovski has been at featherweight, Rodriguez believes Makhachev likely gets the job done in his first lightweight title defense — although he won’t discount the possibility for an upset.
“I’m not counting out Alexander Volkanovski because I know he’s capable of doing a lot of things in there in that cage,” Rodriguez said. “I just think Islam uses his weapons better.
“I think Alexander is going to have to be really, really smart in order for him to get the win. I think Islam has better chances to win, honestly, but I don’t count Alexander Volkanovski out of the fight.”
Whoever is left standing at featherweight will have plenty of challenges ahead of them, especially with marquee fights already booked in the division, like the recently announced matchup pitting ex-UFC champion Max Holloway against Arnold Allen.
Some argued that Allen deserved an interim title shot ahead of Rodriguez or Emmett, but ultimately an injury prevented the British featherweight from even being considered.
None of that matters to Rodriguez right now, because he knows in the long run, he’s going to have to face Emmett, Allen, and every other top featherweight in the division.
“The true answer to all of those question is we’re going to fight each other,” Rodriguez said. “We are all in the same division. We are all close to each other, and whoever is winning eventually is going to fight the top guys in the game. It’s like a mix. You’re always going to have tougher opponents in front of you.
“It doesn’t matter if I’m not fighting Max Holloway or Arnold Allen right now, or any other guy in the division. I think eventually it will happen. It’s just a matter of time. That’s it.”